She Said Turns The New York Times Reporter’s Harvey Weinstein Exposé Into Powerful If Sometimes Dogged On-Screen Drama – ABC News | Team Cansler

She Said is a dramatic portrayal of the New York Times article that led to Harvey Weinstein’s unraveling and helped ignite the #MeToo movement. She Said is the kind of film the currently imprisoned film mogul might have championed at the height of his power: topical, award-winning friendly and with a semblance of prestige.

Based on the book of the same name by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who published the story, the film dispassionately lays out the investigative process that led to the explosive play — and in particular, the reporters’ struggle to overcome the reluctance of Weinstein’s alleged victims to speak publicly after years of damning legal threats and imposed silence.

To viewers familiar with the story, She Said’s no-frills drama may seem like a superficial, one-off narrative of events, but German director Maria Schrader (Unorthodox; I’m Your Man) seems to have deliberately chosen a lean, no-frills approach to execution – while avoiding Hollywood flourishes that probably seemed too frivolous for the effect of the film.

White woman with medium length brunette hair wearing olive green shirt talking on a cellphone outside near the ocean.
“This is about the work of journalism … and the bravery of the survivors who come forward,” Kazan (pictured) told Vanity Fair.(Scope of delivery: Universal)

That the film — produced in a slightly surreal twist by Weinstein collaborator and critic-turned Brad Pitt — works is a testament to the inherent power of the story and the lives it explores, and a reminder of the gravity of the revelations before #MeToo was renamed a witch hunt and alleged perpetrators were able to return to the spotlight with no apparent consequences.

Carey Mulligan turns the drained anger of Promising Young Woman into steely determination, playing Megan Twohey, the New York Times investigative reporter who took on Donald Trump over sexual assault allegations, and a shrewd-observing Zoe Kazan – her famous grandfather into a Witch Hunt – deals with Jodi Kantor, Twohey’s colleague and The Times cultural correspondent who gets wind of the Weinstein scandal.

It’s 2017, there’s a new White House boss despite (or, frighteningly, because of) his infamous dressing-room talks, and rumors of Weinstein’s sexual rampage — a well-kept Hollywood secret and a story previously quashed — are welling up in the mainstream press, foreshadowing a long overdue reckoning with male power and abuse.

“Oh my god, Ronan Farrow is working on a HW play for The New Yorker,” is a typical line in Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s script; It’s the sort of bluntly telegraphed dialogue repeated throughout the film, like so much of the sitcom-level footage of the New York Times building.

A group of six journalists in office clothes lean over a large conference table covered with documents.
Mulligan and Kazan have been off-screen friends since appearing in The Seagull on Broadway in 2008.(Scope of delivery: Universal)

Not all are ready to go public, however: Years of hush money payments from Weinstein and prohibitive NDAs administered by his legal team have left the superproducer’s alleged victims – many middle-aged women whose experiences stretch back to the early ’90s – muted and frightened .

Whether or not they’ll talk is the driving tension in the film, which steadily builds a portrait of broken lives, of women whose need to speak up has yet to overcome years of lowered self-esteem — not just at the hands of Weinstein, but Centuries of male privilege that have taught them to believe their voices are powerless.

“It was like he took my voice that day,” says former Weinstein assistant Laura Madden, played by a stirring middle-aged Jennifer Ehle. “Just when I was about to start finding it.”

Schrader’s serene focus on the intricacies of the journalistic process is admirable, and the space she allows for women to tell their stories is a plus, but She Said sometimes has the feel of a filmed news article, hammering in didactic points and boldness – names with juxtaposed with skillful repetition: here’s Rose McGowan, here’s Gwyneth Paltrow; here is Ashley Judd – played, in a righteous, retaliatory cameo, by the actual Ashley Judd.

Middle-aged blond white woman in a black business suit sitting at the dining table and holding a bundle of paper documents.
“We wrote our book because we felt this story belonged to everyone, not just us,” Kantor told Vanity Fair.(Scope of delivery: Universal)

Those meta-moments make for intriguing ripples, especially when Samantha Morton — who years before Weinstein came into vogue — publicly feuded with Weinstein — emerges as the producer’s former London assistant whose career was cut short just before that. Her performance is haunting and moving.

Still, these scenes are often embedded in flashbacks that move like dramatic re-enactments from a true crime documentary, and She Said can at times seem like it’s trying to be non-fiction; as if its stories would have been better served without its modest cinematic embellishment.

It’s a reminder of the challenges of bringing a newspaper story to screen, of dramatizing events that essentially involve lots of phone calls – so, so many phone calls – and people crowding around desktop screens; never the most compelling vehicle for storytelling. (Would All the President’s Men have worked if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had released the film on smartphones?)

Middle aged white mother wearing a brown shirt sitting between two teenage sons on a couch in a living room watching TV.
Brad Pitt is one of the executive producers of the film.(Scope of delivery: Universal)

The film’s most striking sequence includes a shot of Weinstein’s intimidating model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, played above the eerily empty halls of a hotel that was once the producer’s hunting ground – a moment that distills the entire saga into a sense of menace that evokes the Exceeding routine drama may not always fit.

The pervasiveness of Weinstein’s influence and the terror he unleashed – an atmosphere so accurately rendered in Kitty Green’s brilliant, icy The Assistant – is hinted at by She Said, although the broader context isn’t always clear. “This is bigger than Weinstein, this is about the system that protects the abusers,” the film insists, but Weinstein comes across as just another generic villain being hunted down by Crusade film journalists.

Despite its crushing obviousness in many scenes, the film doesn’t always alert audiences to the bigger stakes — at least not until the final, unintentionally hilarious shot that brings the cartoon hammer down so hard it almost tilts the film into a parody .

Brunette white woman wearing a navy blue blouse holding a clipboard in a corridor next to a dark blonde white woman wearing a purple shirt.
Of Kantor and Twohey, Mulligan (right) told Deadline, “Their partnership is forged by fire, and it’s remarkable.”(Scope of delivery: Universal)

If “She Said” doesn’t always expand on the story we know – if it merely reinforces the familiar while giving Hollywood’s beloved pat on the back – then it remains a powerful reminder of the bravery of the real-life women at its center.

The film reminds us that change doesn’t come easy – nor should we assume that its effects are permanent.

The fact that Schrader’s film was stunned in this year’s award run by Todd Field’s TÁR – a thorny portrait of a female predator threatened with cancellation; how far we’ve come! — is something Harvey Weinstein’s Spin Doctors couldn’t have done better.

She Said is in cinemas now.

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